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Vermillion Artist Shares Life Experiences And Identity Through Paintings

A Vermillion based artist is sharing her life experiences and identity through her painting. She incorporates written work into her art, and lets her thoughts guide her paint brush.

Many of Reyna Hernandez’s paintings are big- life sized oil paintings of people on six-foot canvases . She says there is meaning in every stroke.

“I think it’s always cheesy when people say that they’ve been doing it their whole life but ever since I was really little I would draw and I was just really interested in trying to make things look the same way that I was seeing them.”

Hernandez graduated in 2016 with art and creative writing degrees from the University of South Dakota. The 30 year old hoped to work as a curator in an art gallery. Since graduating, she’s worked  two jobs outside of the art world, and puts in nearly 50 hours a week. In her free time, she creates new pieces. Hernandez says eventually she’d like to go to graduate school and further her education in art.

“It’s really difficult to make time for art. I sketch at home, I write down my ideas for things and really half the battle with making art is coming up with an idea that’s relevant and feels genuine to the things that are going on in your life at the time. So writing is such an important part to the process.”

Hernandez writes her ideas and experiences on anything she can find--napkins, receipts, scratch paper. Then she makes collages from those notes onto a canvas and paints over the top, creating and uneven and rugged background.

“So my writing is incorporated in my paintings at least for my ideas and it’s also literally incorporated in the paintings.”

Hernandez builds a painting around the concepts in her writing. A common theme in her work is something she calls Identity Hybridity. She’s an enrolled member of the Yankton Sioux Tribe and grew up in Gayville South Dakota near Yankton. But as a child, she didn’t learn much about the traditional parts of her culture.

“In that way, I feel like a bit of a stranger to it. So I feel like I’m this hybrid identity where people look at me, they know I’m not white and then I tell them I’m Native and then they ask me about my culture and then I feel like maybe I’m not the right person to be telling them about my culture because I didn’t grow up that way. So it feels like this weird mix of maybe not being genuine but I know I’m genuine because I’m Native and I know that I am who I am.”

That sense of cultural identity is something Hernandez tries to capture in all of her pieces. She paints abstract shapes over the written background of her work, leaving only a few words visible. She often adds a female form as the centerpiece--modeling many images after her own body. Hernandez says some people have suggested she should move past figurative images, but she doesn’t plan on changing her style anytime soon.

“I like to know what I’m painting and I know myself best. One of my favorite artists, Frida Kahlo, did self portraits basically her whole life.”

Hernandez says creating paintings in her own style that are filled with meaning keeps her work genuine. She lets the shape of the collaged notes and her thoughts lead her brush.

“I really like that stream of consciousness organically growing composition. I don’t want to go in there and just paint something that I took a picture of. I want to change it and I want to make sure that my ideas are as new and as fresh as possible.”

Hernandez is scheduled to give an artist’s talk at Colorado College this month about how one of her idols, Oscar Howe, influences her art.